Late to the Party: Super Mario Bros. 3


My quest to stop sucking at Mario sidescrollers continues as I complete Super Mario Bros. 3 for the first time, which was also only my second serious attempt at the game (my first only being last year). As some may have predicted, it has blown me away. Not only does SMB3 live up to its reputation as one of the top Mario games, I’m shocked at what it accomplished on the NES.

To me, SMB3 doesn’t look like an NES game, but rather a low-end Super NES game (and this is the Virtual Console NES version, not the SNES port). Its sprites are basically the sprites I remember from Super Mario World but with less color. Of course after that came the realization of the significant gameplay changes SMB3 brought coming off of the original.

Being able to damage things from the side (without a turtle shell) is a huge one. It changed how Nintendo designed the levels in an ever-present way, nearly adding another dimension to the game. Carrying things is another big addition, particularly in how the levels expect you to use turtle shells compared to the original SMB. Mainly of course however is Mario’s raccoon tail power-up granting temporary flight, a horizontal attack, and with that a host of advantages.

In SBM3 I also feel like Nintendo wants you to explore the levels a bit more than before. This is where you first see some Mario levels designed for you to traverse back and forth, finding secrets and solving what are basically mazes. The biggest and most obvious addition SMB3 brings is the world map, but it defied my expectations.

I thought SMB3’s world map would feel like, well, an overworld. What it really feels like is a tabletop game, with levels as basically spaces on the board. The way you can game different items and paths through the board deliver that tabletop feeling. SMB3 is a tough game in my opinion but I like how you can skillfully minimize how much you have to repeat upon game over. Making the airship level move every time you fail it is a nice touch. Things like that discouraged me from save-scumming the game. And the fact that you couldn’t save at all on the NES version probably made each session of SMB3 really feel like a one-time board game session.

I’m really intrigued by the multiplayer potential though. Two-player mode is basically two different characters moving separately across the board, trying to complete it first. Did a lot of people do this at parties? Is there an SMB3 tournament scene (outside The Wizard) I don’t know about? It’s a great idea I’ve almost never seen done since this game. I could imagine an asynchronous online remake or something where players mail moves to each other (and maybe play in real time when the two characters meet up on the board).

What also surprises me about this is that no later Mario game besides World really pushed the tabletop idea. All the recent Mario games that use a world map simply have levels plotted on the screen with an alternate path in Super Mario Galaxy 2 or a little backtracking in Paper Mario Sticker Star. None of them actually go to the extent of making you play the map like a board game with items and secrets. I guess that’s partly why SMB3 is still argued by some to be the best Mario game. I guess I’ll soon start up the other main contender.


  • Interesting stories about the old console war.
  • Got a chance to play just a bit of H2 Overdrive — the spiritual successor to Hydro Thunder. It brings back the same accessible water racing arcade gameplay, but with some modern Call of Duty-isms like leveling up with experience points. The Cabinet even has a keypad to encourage you to create an account.
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One thought on “Late to the Party: Super Mario Bros. 3

  1. H2Overdrive is awesome, and you’ll love the other games from the same developer, Dirty Drivin’ and Batman Arcade. You get to drive the Batmobile in the latter!

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